Unleash your inner kid with a functional STEM airplane launcher from VEX Robotics.  Build it, Color it, Fling it.

When I think back and reminisce about my childhood memories, I continually return to a few select core experiences.  Some of my fondest memories involved playing with Lego’s and flying paper airplanes with my father.  Before all of the modern tech, our STEM involved hands-on activities and experiments.  We would build cars/vehicles and race them, or we would simply have Lego wars.  When the weather permitted, we would also have paper airplane distance challenges, flight time duration challenges and would often laugh when one of us made a terribly designed plane.  There were many times that we would experiment with a new plane design or a flap, and the airplane would become a rock.  Now that I have three children of my own, I get to pay the memories forward.  I have had the pleasure of growing alongside technology and enjoy many modern STEM-heavy activities.  You can thus imagine my excitement when I found the Vex Robotics Crossfire at my local Toys-R-Us.  This kit combines building/construction elements with paper airplane science into an incredibly entertaining paper airplane launcher.

The Crossfire Airplane Launcher arrived in an attractive 9 inches wide by 10 inches tall by 2 1/2 inches thick colorful retail box.  The silver metallic foil across the top served as an impressive backdrop for the “VEX ROBOTICS” title.  Just beneath the title, the company provided a prominent image of the purple/orange crossbow-esque launcher.  Scattered around the launcher/airplane, you can see a variety of equations, such as Newtons Second Law and a freefall equation.  The engineer in you may love the design/build and the technical flight but the artist gets to shine as well.  A small square along the bottom right detailed the ability to personalize and bedazzle your airplane.  The box promised the ability to create and fold your own planes if you had a hole punch device.  The reverse face of the packaging provided another amazing image overlaying grid paper.  The launcher diagramed on the back of the package portrayed the fired position of the device.  The front/back covers provided a helpful visual representation of the effects of the launcher mechanism.   Combine the 135 building pieces into a crossbow with a pump action lever and then color one of the six included folded pieces of paper with pre-punched holes.  Add the easy-connect snap-piece nosecone to your airplane, load the launcher and then step back and enjoy the flight.

Inside of the box, Vex provided a large bag of plastic pieces, a smaller bag of connector pieces, a 46-page manual and six pre-cut designed paper airplanes.  The instruction manual was easy to follow and was designed like a lego kit.  The first few pages detailed the included pieces, provided information about the orientation of the pieces and the means to connect the pieces.  The following four pages (4-7) provided a helpful accounting of the pieces and shapes.  Starting with page eight and continuing through page forty-two, Vex progressively helped us to build the launcher.  Each step added a bite-sized amount of plastic to the overall build.  Across the top, Vex conveniently provided a list of the needed pieces for the pages.  I liked the approach and the design of the manual.  This allowed my two children and I to build the kit in steps, taking turns.  Each of my boys would take over on the next page turn.  Even though the box states that the product is for children aged 14-18, my six and nine-year-old sons greatly enjoyed the activity.  The only hiccup/setback was that my six year old had a little trouble pressing the pegs into the holes with his thumbs.  This process was not challenging but did require a bit of hand strength. The build took roughly one hour and was a truly fun experience that my children and I were able to experience together.

Vex Crossfire Launcher
Once the launcher was complete, we set it aside and turned our attention to our paper airplanes.  I wish that there were more than six included airplanes.  To solve this problem, I took one of the pre-designed pages to my local Office Depot and made a front/back copy of the plane design.  We did not find any difference in flight with colored or uncolored planes, nor did we find any difference when coloring with pen/marker, colored pencils or crayons.  Conveniently, each of the pages has dashed lines to guide your folds. The pre-punched holes will align, and you can add the weighted launcher/nose cone.  The airplane design is one of the two types of paper airplane that I fold regularly,  Fold the two top corners towards the middle, fold the top down, fold the corners in again, fold the tip up and then fold the plane in half.  Lastly, you can fold the wings down and then add the nosecone.  I loved that Vex included three separate nosecones, but wish that the manual and the kit had a few other plane designs. When ready to flight, use the lower hook on the rubber band, pull back the airplane, pull the pump action lever towards you, lock the airplane in place and then push the pump lever forward.  If you do not hold the pump lever, the plane may misfire and shoot someone.  Please make sure that you treat this as a loaded weapon and use appropriate safety guidelines.

Vex Nosecone
We have had a very wet few weeks, missing out on outdoor activities due to rain.  I know I am not alone in the feelings of cabin fever and we were excited to have this kit to play with.  Standing at one end of my hallway, we were able to launch airplanes to the door.  The promise of 30+ feet was actually on the conservative side.  We tested the kit flat and with the launcher at 45-degree angle and directly saw the benefits of trajectory.  At this point, my three-year-old daughter wandered into the fray and said: “I want to shoot one.”  Both of my boys were more than able to load the launcher and fire the planes.  However, my three-year-old was not able to load it.  Thus, we loaded it for her.  She tired of the safety game and she thought it fun to launch airplanes at her brothers.  Since the nose of the planes was protected by the rubberized nose and the snap pieces held together incredibly well, we were able to fly each plane dozens of times.  With a standard airplane, the landing destroys the nose and decreases the flight of the plane.  We loved the kit and would recommend this for Cub Scouts, classrooms and for anyone with a love for fun.

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